'Labor of love' Perkins House seeks local historic status

It would be only the fifth Cedar Rapids property to have it

 

CEDAR RAPIDS — Eric Gutschmidt didn’t know precisely what he was getting into when he bought an old 5,024-square foot mansion on Third Avenue SE known as the Perkins House, except that he loved it.

The two-and-a-half-story house is unmistakable from the street with a tower on the front and a portico porch, but is badly run down and has been split into eight apartments. He initially envisioned fixing it up to be a transitional home for Burmese refugees.

That didn’t pan out after he discovered the house had more problems than he had realized — including, he said, that some of the units didn’t even have heat.

Gutschmidt’s sights now are on doing a full historic renovation and having the Perkins House anchor a residential revitalization in the MedQuarter Regional Medical District.

“I bought this on a whim because I thought it looked really cool,” said Gutschmidt, 34, who has remodeled 35 properties in 10 years. “And in the grand scheme of things it is a super cool house, but it will be a labor of love to complete.”

Gutschmidt and Friends of Cedar Rapids Historic Preservation have requested the Cedar Rapids City Council grant the Perkins House, 1228 Third Ave. SE, a local historic landmark designation. It would be just the fifth property recognized as such since the designation was created in 1999 and the first since Grace Episcopal Church, 525 A Ave. NE, in early 2018.

 

“This offers protections on the house not only now but in the future,” said Lauren Freeman, Cedar Rapids community development program coordinator.

She explained to the council Jan. 8 the designation requires the property owner gain approval for modifications to the exterior of the building, although not the interior.

The city is encouraging more property owners to seek the designation to provide enhanced protections for the city’s oldest structures, she said. Two others are in the pipeline, she said.

The council voted initial approval for the designation and is expected to make the two final votes needed on Jan. 22.

“With the unique architecture and detailing, I think it will be very exciting to see it brought back to the original condition or close to it,” said Scott Overland, a City Council member. “I think it will be a real boon for the neighborhood and I’m very supportive of the landmark process.”

Council member Ann Poe added, “This is a strong way for us to hang on to those important historic structures. Let’s get as many of them designated on local, state and national — on the registries — and get those designations in place. It’s a good way to protect them.”

 

The property previously was approved for the National Register of Historic Places in 2002. While the national designation opens doors for historic tax credit opportunities, it has less clout for protecting the property than the local designation.

The 1897 Queen Anne-style Victorian house was designed by prominent architect Charles A. Dieman for Charles and Nellie Perkins, according to the 2002 application.

Overland said the house likely was one of the first in that area as the city expanded east.

By 1928, the house had been converted into an eight-plex and has been so ever since, the application noted.

The architectural detail was the basis for the national designation.

A tower rounds to a peak in the front, a prominent brick chimney climbs the facade, a portico porch has round-arched brick columns and the east side has a Palladian window.

Gutschmidt, who purchased the house in 2017 from Kent and Jackie Fowlkes for $150,000, said his first focus is the exterior. He already invested $80,000 on a new roof and this spring plans a full paint restoration with a palette of seven colors including creams, browns, whites and blues.

The interior is adorned with arched entryways and built-in features. But wood floors have been painted over and water leaks have eaten through plaster. So that will take longer.

Gutschmidt is planning to restore units, only three of which are occupied, over the next two years. Given the challenge of finding someone to take on such a large home, he said he plans to keep the Perkins House as apartments.

He estimates the remodel could cost $750,000 and will follow historic preservation guidelines. Given rundown properties in the neighborhood and the cost of the investment, he expects bank financing will be a challenge to get.

Still, Gutschmidt said he is committed to restoring the house to its old glory and hopes the local historic landmark pressures neighboring property owner to invest in their properties.

He thinks the Perkins House could be workforce housing, providing walking distance accommodations for professionals at the nearby hospitals or clinics.

“The Perkins house when I bought it was arguable the worst house on the block, and it is in the MedQuarter, which I know the city has put a lot of effort into revamping,” Gutschmidt said. “My hope is over time this will be the best house on the block, the nicest one with the highest valuation ... That neighborhood really shows a lot of promise to come back.”

l Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com